The Easter break for me has traditionally meant a visit to Herne Hill velodrome in South London, for the annual Good Friday race meeting. I go along not just for the racing but also to catch up with old friends, who I know will make the same trip every year. However, this year it was a much more, low-key affair thanks to the usual Southern Counties Cycling Union races, that have previously been the main draw of the bank holiday meeting, making the move to the Lee Valley indoor velodrome in East London…
That’s right, the one that was built for the 2012 Olympics. And for me therein lies a real problem: Herne Hill was used in the 1948 London Olympics, but today it is a sad shadow of its former self, even though it is the only finals’ venue to remain from those immediate post-war Games.
Photo: J H McAleely
The history of the track predates the ’48 Games, as it was originally built in 1891. That’s right, a sporting venue with a heritage of nearly 125 years! Yet outside of cycling circles it is all but forgotten about; so forgotten about that at the turn of this century the site was nearly lost to property developers.
Today the track remains and recent years have seen a number of improvements to the facilities on the site, but there remains a sad reminder of the once glorious days of the track at the very height of its frame and that is the grandstand. Built in 1891 when the track first opened it is now a neglected and boarded up, derelict shell.
My introduction to track racing was sat in that grandstand in the mid-’90s, watching the riders on track. Now all I can do is stand and look at the ramshackle shell and shake my head in despair. I’m not alone in my yearning to see it returned to its former glory. The Herne Hill Velodrome Trust, which was set up in 2011 as a response to the highly successful Save the Velodrome campaign, is doing all it can to get a new pavilion built. This is the same support group that has already been successful in getting the track resurfaced in recent years.
Yet, I can’t help but think that there should be a greater level of commitment from both local and national government, British Cycling and the Olympic Legacy Corporation, whose involvement was so vital in bringing the 2012 Games to London with its plans to create sustained use of the sporting venues created specifically for those Games. Why not spread the love and remember the past Games?
Photo: J H McAleely
If you think I’m over-reacting to the way that the original London Olympic velodrome has been left to struggle for its survival, here’s some facts for you to consider. Crystal Palace football club used the velodrome as its home ground between 1914 and 1918, so it has been a successful sporting venue for other pastimes while retaining the track. How many other sporting venues can lay down such claims of mixed use?
Of course, there is also the matter of a 12-year-old cyclist who began his competitive career at Herne Hill. You might have heard of him: Bradley Wiggins. He’s gone on to win a race or two. Now just think how different UK cycling would be today if Herne Hill velodrome had not been there for the young Wiggo to train and race on when he first discovered cycling?
More information about the proposed redevelopment of the old grandstand and how you can support Herne Hill velodrome can be found at www.hhvt.org. And as a parting thought have you ever wondered what will be the fate of Lee Valley velodrome in 125 years’ time?
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